“Marry me,” the farmer said. He was thirty-three and Sylvia was sixteen. Why not she reasoned, maybe I’ll be a part of a real family. He was really eager to have a son. He never used the word “love” but who should love her anyway. She was nothing and would not ever amount to anything. She was in foster care and was reminded she was from nothing good. So here was a man that said the magic word “marry” just to think someone would consider wanting her. Sylvia knew she had better jump at that offer. Another one may never come along. After all, she knew she was dumb and ugly, how lucky she felt, she was wanted. December 1960 in her old brown coat she said the right words that meant obedience. As she voiced the words, a tiny voice inside her head was sending off a “danger” signal. Sylvia glanced behind her for an escape but there was none. She went forward, tried to smile and stepped out into a raging New England blizzard. Sylvia was born on April 6, 1944, in Connecticut. She lied in the marriage license and wrote down she was born in 1942. Oh well, what difference is a couple of years? But still, the red flag of warming was up. She tried to brush it aside. He must be a good man, he didn’t drink or smoke. She was taught those two things were bad. Her husband worked on a large dairy farm for his father. Months later Sylvia learned her husband was told to get a strong farm wife and have a son or he would not inherit the farm. Soon she learned she was expecting a child. She was happy to tell her husband the good news. “Now he will love me,” she thought. But alas, when she found the right moment to tell him, he looked at her said, “it had better be a boy or you are out of here”. Sylvia knew nothing about God, but she started praying for a son. If she had a girl, she and the child had no place to go. The months passed and at last, the pains started. Many hours later the much-coveted son bounced into the world. Now he will love me Sylvia thought. But that word was never used on her. In two and a half years, Sylvia gave him a total of three children, a son, a daughter, and another son. Sylvia had home chores to do that never ended. She lived in a vacant run-down house on the farm. She hauled her water, chopped wood for the stove and scrubbed down the outhouse to keep it clean. She swatted mice with a broom and killed rats that tried to attack her little ones. She lived on a dirt road in the woods with no neighbors. She was lonely and turned to the small radio for companionship.
Every Saturday as she patted out dough for bread, she heard someone talking on the radio about God. Week after week she planned her Saturday’s to listen to her new friend who knew God. Sylvia didn’t know if there was a God, but this person talked like he was sure there was. The weeks flew by and one day Sylvia decided to try calling the number they gave as a contact. She didn’t know how to talk or express herself, but they were patient and invited themselves to visit the next day. Sylvia was horrified; she and her little ones were dressed in rags. They knocked on the door. Sylvia was so scared and nervous she stood there as they pushed past her to find a seat. She hung her head as they talked about a loving God. This was a language Sylvia did not know.
Sylvia was invited to church. She said no, she had no way to get there. The pastor’s wife had the remedy. “I’ll pick you up Sunday “she beamed. Thus started months of trips to a place called church. Sylvia was scared and nervous. She sat in the back with her three little ones and kept her head down. Many months went by and one Sunday they were singing a song called At Calvary. Sylvia could read. She was dumb and ugly, but she could read. She studied each word. Somebody died she decided, and it was for her. More months went by and she decided to read the Bible at home. The pages flew as she read and took breaks only for her chores. She was inspired by what she read. I want Jesus in my heart she decided and did so sitting on the lumpy horse hair couch. Something happened, she wasn’t sure what, but something was different. Sylvia started to smile and sing the church songs as she scrubbed the diapers and patched clothes. She hung them on the line and sang Jesus Loves Me. At last she was loved, and it was from above and it was REAL! Something else was getting real too. Sylvia’s husband was not happy about the “new wife” he saw emerging. He shouted at her “you are dumb and ugly and stupid and you ain’t going to that ____ ____ church no more”. He struck her, that was a first. He never did that before. She was neglected and ignored but now to be hit. That reminded her of her childhood. He threatened her with more if she disobeyed, and he said to her, you can’t have them _____ birth control pills NO more. Me and Dad think that they are making you crazy over religion. He attacked her – She ran. With help she took the children and fled into the night. She was hiding and hoping he would see the light and get right in his heart with God. The months went by with court hearings that made no sense. At last Sylvia got full custody of her children, but her husband had lots of visiting. Sylvia groaned “Oh God help me”. The visit week came, Sylvia hugged her children and watched them out the window and waited for them to return. They never came home. She tried to get help but was told if she knew where they were, she could steal them back. Now she really was alone. No children, no education, not even a driver’s license. Life and laws were different in the 1960’s.
Weeks later she was told she had to do something. A mission was open in Arizona with the Navajo Indians. Sylvia felt lost and abandoned. She was a wife with no husband, a mother with no children, a homemaker with no home. She was a nothing. She was a zero and felt like it.
Her life among the Navajo began and she was lonelier than ever as she saw Indian mothers nurse and cuddle their babies on the cradleboards. As time went by the mothers handed their babies to her to hold. The Navajo language was the only language spoken. At least she could hold babies and smile at the mothers. Then she saw bruises on the young mothers. She knew what that meant. She started helping the mothers with their children. Days, weeks, months, and years went by. Sylvia knew from her own experience how important education is. And to not have it makes a person a victim of the system. She started a sponsorship program to help the Indian children enter school and enjoy it. With clean clothes, good shoes, and classroom supplies, attendance went up. Helping others get their lives together made her feel alive and useful.
Sylvia believes faith and education makes a person a whole. Years later Sylvia did find her children. But they had been led to believe she was dead. Today Sylvia and her daughter are growing closer. Her oldest son passed away from cancer at the age of thirty-nine soon after finding his mother. The youngest son struggles with who he is. He was very small when he lost his mother and never got over it. Sylvia waits and prays. She has learned not everything can be fixed.